Who will win the 2016 US presidential election? (update)

Will something like the Bradley Effect play a role in this 2016 presidential election? Recall that the Bradley Effect is supposed to manifest itself in the tendency for at least some sizable percentage of voters to say that they’ll vote for a black candidate but to vote for the white candidate instead[1]. I realize that it’s controversial in some circles whether we actually saw the Bradley Effect in recent presidential elections, much less have seen it in the election for which it was named[2]. But such controversies don’t matter for my present purposes. I merely want to think about the possibility that

  • (a) Voters are more likely to vote from Mr. Trump than tell pollsters that they’re going to vote for him.
  • (b) Voters are less likely to vote from HRC than tell pollsters that they’re going to vote for her.

Short answer: We don’t have, as far as I can see, good reason to think that either (a) or (b) is true. That removes (baring contrary evidence currently unavailable) one source of skepticism about the accuracy of the polls.

Long answer: Let’s start with (a). The thought goes something like this[3]: They are some voters who who recognize that Mr. Trump is seen by many as a racist[4], sexist[5], proto-fascist[6] thug[7], who might well be, according to Fox News(!), mentally ill[8]. Indeed, these voters might even think that Mr. Trump is some or all of the above.[9] Hence, they do not want to be seen as supporting him. However, the theory goes, they prefer Mr. Trump to HRC because they share these repellent attitudes, because think that HRC would be even worse, or for other reasons I cannot quite fathom. Hence, these voters will say to pollsters, to their friends, to their neighbors, etc. (according to the theory) that they won’t vote for Trump, but they will do so anyway.

The LA Times[10] discusses one poll that suggests a cautious “yes” to (a), while Red State expresses mild skepticism[11]. I think that Red State gets the better of this disagreement since the dispositive value of a single poll is slight. But the idea behind the poll seems like it’s worth exploring further. But we’ll have to await the work of clever (and well-funded) pollsters. Finally, it’s worth remembering that Mr. Trump consistently under-performed his polls until last month[12]. His recent tendency to over-perform his polls really dates, as I understand it, from his win in the New York primary.

What about (b)? I haven’t found any discussion of this possibility, and that fact surprises me. Perhaps the apparent failure of the Bradley Effect to surface in the 2008 and 2012 elections has soured people on this idea. But I’m not sure we should give up so quickly. It seems entirely possible that some people – especially some men – will want to sound right-thinking and enlightened by saying that they will vote for the first female president in US history while either refraining to do so or, quelle horreur, voting for Mr. Trump. Again, we haven’t seen much evidence for this. HRC has pretty steadily outperformed her polls[13], the opposite of what one would expect if the Bradley Effect were in operation.


[1] https://ballotpedia.org/Bradley_effect

[2] http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/persistent-myth-of-bradley-effect/

[3] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/commentary-are-polls-underestimating-trumps-support/

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-racist-examples_us_56d47177e4b03260bf777e83

[5] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/heres-all-the-sexist-things-that-donald-trump-has-ever-said-10452180.html

[6] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/interrogation/2016/02/is_donald_trump_a_fascist_an_expert_on_fascism_weighs_in.html

[7] http://www.salon.com/2016/04/22/donald_trump_will_never_be_presidential_partner/

[8] http://www.politicususa.com/2016/03/18/fox-news-suggests-donald-trump-mentally-ill-obsessed-megyn-kelly.html

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/03/24/gop-elites-think-trump-will-be-a-disaster-for-the-party-gop-voters-disagree/

[10] http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-trump-polls-20151221-story.html

[11] http://www.redstate.com/streiff/2015/12/24/donald-trumps-polling-show-reverse-bradley-effect/

[12] http://www.redstate.com/neil_stevens/2016/04/11/new-york-polling-continues-look-disappointing-trump/

[13] http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/15/politics/hillary-clinton-new-york-poll/ – This is true of primaries, but less so of caucuses.





Will Montenegro become a NATO member in 2016? (update)

“Montenegro [expects] to become the 29th member of the Alliance this year” (i.e. 2016) according to one source[1]. However, the article provides no evidence for this claim, and is mostly concerned with another question – namely, whether or not Georgia will ever become part of NATO. Still, I think it’s worth mentioning this only because it suggests there’s still a healthy difference of opinion among people who are (or ought to be) well informed about this question. This question is rather different from a lot of the GJ questions I’ve given some thought over the last few months. Here it’s not so much a matter of how do I analyze and weigh all of the data that I have; it’s a question of what don’t I know yet, and how might I shed some of my ignorance.

[1] http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/georgia-and-nato-perpetual-threshold-_3741.html

Which party will control the US Senate after the November 2016 election? (update)

According to Slate, “Choosing [Senator Elizabeth] Warren would be an uncharacteristically bold and thrilling move for the cautious Clinton, one that would help unite Sanders supporters behind her candidacy while throwing its feminist promise into high relief”[1].

I think it is unlikely that HRC would choose Sen. Warren as her running mate, but notice that if she did, and the Clinton/Warren ticket won the White House, there would be consequences for control of the Senate. Massachusetts has a Republican Governor who would, presumably, choose a fellow Republican to replace Sen. Warren in the upper chamber. True, an election for a replacement would follow in 145-160 days[2]. But there’s no guarantee that the electorate would return a Democrat. As recently as 2010, Republican Scott Brown was elected to the Senate by the voters of the mayflower state. That fact alone might be a deal-breaker for a Clinton/Warren ticket. But if it’s not, control of the Senate might be even harder to predict.

[2] http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/vacancies-in-the-united-states-senate.aspx

Who will win the 2016 US presidential election? (update)

I’ve been leaning on the electoral logic of late[1], but Harry Enten suggests that this might not be such a good idea[2]. Enten has three main points:

  • (a) The chance of an Electoral College and popular vote split is small.
  • (b) Without looking at all the states, we don’t know how to interpret state polls.
  • (c) We don’t have a lot of state polls.

Well, Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), and George W. Bush (2000) each won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. With historical data, there’s always the question of framing. One way of framing it is that we have had 3 splits during all 57 US presidential elections = 0.05. Another way of framing it is that we have had 1 split during the 4 US presidential elections during the 21st century = 0.25. Which one should we prefer? Enten has a more sophisticated approach to framing:

Research by Nicholas R. Miller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, has found that — all else being equal — there’s about a 25 percent chance of a split if the national popular vote is decided by about 1 percentage point, and that the chance is cut in half when the margin is 2 percentage points. We all remember the razor-thin margin in the 2000 election, when George W. Bush won the presidency even though Al Gore won the popular vote. But we forget that the 1960 and 1968 elections were about equally close but didn’t produce a split. Jimmy Carter in 1976 and George W. Bush in 2004 won relatively clear victories in the Electoral College while winning the popular vote by a little more than 2 points. If the national popular vote margin is greater than 4 percentage points, Miller found, the chance of a split is about zero.[3]

Okay, there’s enough here to make me want to look harder at the national polls.

So what do we see? As a rough first try, I took the unweighted average of the national Clinton vs. Trump polls done this month[4], and the results were 53.43% for HRC and 46.57% for Mr. Trump, with a standard deviation of 1.8%. That translates (with all the usual qualifications) into a 0.972 probability of victory for HRC. Interestingly, that almost precisely what the Monte Carlo simulation I ran told me: a 0.974 probability of victory for HRC[5]. I realize that I’m cherry picking a bit, but the fact that two reasonable but unrelated models predict in overwhelming likelihood of a D victory seems at least a little significant.

Also, there’s about a 9% chance according to that the difference between the candidates will be 2 percentage points or less. If Professor Miller’s take on things is more-or-less right, that leaves about a 2.5% chance of a split decision (so to speak) between the Electoral College and the popular vote.

All that said, it’s still too early to take these polls too seriously. Remember Gov. Dukakis’ 17-point lead in the polls[6] during the 1988 campaign? Good times. I realize that there’s some reason to think the polls are likely to be more reliable this year because both HRC and Mr. Trump are better known than presidential candidates in the days of yore. Maybe. Right now there are 178 days, 14 days, 26 minutes, and 17 seconds until the election[7]. Historically, polls are not very predictive at this point. The average adjusted R squared is about 0.5 this far out, but it rises to higher than 0.9 immediately before the election[8].


So I’m taking it slow.

[1] https://www.gjopen.com/comments/comments/230497

[2] http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/dont-worry-about-the-electoral-college-math/

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/2016-general-election-trump-vs-clinton

[5] https://www.gjopen.com/comments/comments/229516

[6] http://www.politico.com/magazine/gallery/2013/11/how-bush-beat-dukakis-000005?slide=0

[7] http://www.270towin.com/2016-countdown-clock/

[8] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/23/lets-not-get-ahead-of-ourselves-people_n_6534968.html


Will a new Supreme Court Justice be appointed before 20 January 2017? (update)

Haven’t thought much about this lately, so it looks like it’s time for an update.

Politico tells us that “Democrats are getting badly outspent by their conservative rivals in the war over Merrick Garland’s confirmation, suggesting that President Barack Obama’s closest allies in the Supreme Court battle have more bark than bite…The muscular spending from GOP-backed groups shows how dug-in conservatives are over their Garland blockade, and has helped keep almost all Senate Republicans moving in lockstep”[1]. Sounds bad for the Ds. But does money matter here? I can’t quite see how the mechanism is supposed to work (or, more exactly, work well).

More important, I think is the near inevitability of Mr. Drumpf’s nomination[2] and his less than stelar chances in the general election[3]. These facts might throw a spanner into the works. R Senators could be willing to make their peace with the Garland nomination in order to avoid getting a nominee to his left after HRC enters office. Yet the Senators probably needn’t be in a rush. If HRC wins, they could approve Mr. Garland after the election[4][5].

Now here’s an interesting wrinkle: Some folks on the right even fear what will happen if Mr. Drumpf is elected: “If Drumpf has a choice between an originalist conservative with sterling credentials who would often block Drumpf, and buddy of his who hasn’t read the Constitution but would let Drumpf do what he wants, who do you think Drumpf would pick?”[6]. Mr Drumpf has repeatedly promised to provide a list of possible nominees, but he hasn’t delivered yet[7]. Maybe it’s just as well; his mercurial nature would render such a list out-of-date before we ever saw it.

So if HRC wins, then approve Mr. Garland after the election, and if Mr. Drumpf wins, then approve Mr. Garland after the election. Therefore, approve Mr. Garland after the election? Well, maybe. Here are some things that might, just might, stand in the way:

  • (a) HRC wins, but President Obama withdraws Mr. Garland’s name in deference to the incoming president.
  • (b) HRC wins, but Senate Rs can’t get their act together to approve Mr. Garland during the lame duck session.
  • (c) HRC wins, and Senate Ds think they can do better than Mr. Garland.
  • (d) Mr. Drumpf wins, and Senate Rs think they can do better than Mr. Garland.
  • (e) That thing I said before about another Supreme Court Justice dying might happen
  • (f) Something I haven’t thought of yet.

While (a) could happen[8], I don’t know of any evidence that President Obama is actually considering this possibility. HRC has said, if she wins the election, she won’t ask Mr. Obama do withdraw Mr. Garland’s nomination[9]. While she could easily reverse course on this point, I’m not sure she’d have that much to gain by doing so. On the contrary, if the Senate confirms Mr. Garland after the presidential election, she’ll have one less fight with the Senate on her hands. Low probability – call it 10%.

I think (b) is more likely[10]. In order for the Senate to confirm Mr. Garland, Sen. Grassley would have to relent and somehow find a way to save face after repeatedly saying “No way, Jose”[11]. But Sen. Cruz’s remarkably fast climbdown from “We’re in it to win it” to “Sayonara, suckers” is a reminder that a post-haste volte-face that seemed unlikely can happen when conditions change. In addition to Sen. Grassley’s embrace of pretzel logic, there would have to be enough Sen. Rs and Ds who are in the mood to give the Garland nomination priority. That’s not a given. Surely, some departing R senators will have some last minute business to attend to, and that might soak up whatever time is available to deal with Mr. Garland’s nomination. And voters are less interested in this sort of thing than I used to think[12]. From a distance Senate Rs might look like a unified bunch, but they have some sharply divergent interests, and that might keep them from doing what might be in all of their interests. Fairly probable – call it 30%.

I love (c), but I think it’s pretty damn unlikely. Strictly speaking, the Rs would need only 6 Ds in order to confirm Mr. Garland. Even if they had a lot of R defections, I feel pretty confident that they could scrounge up 15-20 Ds. Only a D filibuster could stop the process, and that’s the last card that Ds would want to play in these circumstances (assuming that an HRC victory brings with it control of the Senate). Very low probability – call it 1%.

As for (d), I’ve already mentioned grumblings among the Rs that Mr. Drumpf would unlikely to provide a candidate who is, all things considered, superior to Mr. Garland. Thing is, those grumblings aren’t, to the best of my knowledge, coming from Senate Rs. On the contrary, Sen. Chuck Grassley has said that “there’s no problem with” Mr. Drumpf “appointing people to the Supreme Court”[13]. Low probability – call it 5%.

I’d say (e) is still pretty damn unlikely but interesting nonetheless[14]. Very low probability – call it 1%.

And (f)? Well, I could use some help, and I’ll reevaluate as soon as I get some.

Since I currently think HRC is a 71/29 favorite over Mr. Drumpf[15], I must think that the odds that Mr. Garland will be appointed are something like this: (0.71*.59) + (0.29*0.06) = 0.43. That’s certainly a higher probability than I had earlier thought, largely because of the Ds increased probability of taking the White House.

[1] http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/gop-supreme-court-merrick-garland-222898#ixzz48MMHag1k

[2] https://www.gjopen.com/comments/comments/228739

[3] https://www.gjopen.com/comments/comments/230497

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-garland-idUSKCN0WJ251

[5] http://www.wsj.com/articles/gop-plots-its-path-on-merrick-garland-supreme-court-nomination-1458169679

[6] Quoted at http://mediamatters.org/research/2016/05/10/conservative-lawyers-warn-against-allowing-trump-pick-supreme-court-justices/210331

[7] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/05/trumps-possible-scotus-radicalism.html?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Intelligencer%20-%20May%209%2C%202016&utm_term=Subscription%20List%20-%20Daily%20Intelligencer%20%281%20Year%29

[8] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/03/17/how-obama-could-get-last-laugh-in-supreme-court-fight/

[9] http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-live-updates-democr-sanders-if-elected-id-ask-obama-to-withdraw-gar-1460689474-htmlstory.html

[10] http://www.businessinsider.com/r-key-republicans-open-to-handling-garland-nomination-after-us-election-2016-3

[11] http://www.politico.com/story/2016/03/chuck-grassley-defends-supreme-court-block-220567

[12] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2016/05/09/3776434/support-republican-partys-plans-supreme-court-collapsed/

[13] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2016/05/10/3776868/senate-judiciary-chair-no-problem-trump-appointing-people-supreme-court/

[14] https://www.gjopen.com/comments/comments/182318

[15] https://www.gjopen.com/comments/comments/230497


Who will win the 2016 US presidential election? (update)

Increasingly, I’m finding the electoral vote logic compelling[1]. There’s a nice, clear presentation of that logic in a recent Washington Post piece: “If Clinton wins Florida and carries the 19 states (plus D.C.) that have voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in each of the last six elections, she will be the 45th president. It’s that simple”[2]. Well, I wouldn’t want to use the word “simple” in the same breadth as “presidential election,” but, yeah, that would do the trick. Two questions arise here: (i) Are any of the six-time D states likely to defect? and (ii) how probable is a D win in Florida?

Let’s start with (i). The most likely defectors are Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The Cook Political Report tells us that both of these states have a “lean D” status[3]. Federal legislative positions that are rated as lean D end up going D 87.7% of the time[4]. (Presidential elections are too rare to supply useful date, I suppose.) Note that the WaPo arithmetic doesn’t
presuppose that the Ds will win either Colorado or Virginia, both of which are also listed as lean D.

What about (ii)? How likely is it that Florida will be blue this fall? CPR also lists it as lean D. The WaPo piece points to a poll referred to in Politico article, which has HRC up 13 percentage points on Mr. Trump. But once you run it down, you see that the poll was based on 604 voters, not enough to get very excited about[5].

More important, perhaps, are the demographics of the state: Registered Democrats = 40%, registered Republicans = 35%, and registered for neither = 25%. Hispanics make up about 20% of the state’s population[6], and Mr. Trump’s problems with hispanics don’t deserve a footnote. All of this information, however, has to be taken with a grain of salt: Hispanics skew younger, and many younger folks can’t vote (under 18) or don’t vote (enter your favorite joke about millennials here). Interestingly, 15% of Florida are vets or serving military, and Mr. Trump is reported to poll well with this group[7][8].

Oversimplifying (a lot), I’d like to say that Mr. Trump can’t win without Florida, so his odds of winning the presidency can’t be higher than his odds of winning Florida. And at the moment, I don’t think his odds of winning Florida are higher than 30% (though that number will likely change a lot as more data becomes available.) Furthermore, while winning Florida is a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient condition of victory. He could, for example, win Florida but lose Ohio (where he also lost the primary contest). Ergo, Mr. Trump’s odds of winning should be *less* than 30%. Let’s call it 29% just to be safe.

[1] https://www.gjopen.com/comments/comments/229516

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/05/02/republicans-have-a-massive-electoral-map-problem-that-has-nothing-to-do-with-donald-trump/

[3] http://cookpolitical.com/presidential/charts/scorecard

[4] http://cookpolitical.com/about/accuracy

[5] http://static.politico.com/00/fd/3b66ba454039b21f6797f039096e/april28-lge-600-final-slides.pdf – But it is worth noting that the source of the poll was Associated Industries of Florida, which appears to be a business friendly body not known for a bias toward the Ds. Politco reports, however, that AIF “teamed with Democratic strategist Steve Vancore for the poll.” See http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/florida/2016/05/8598048/florida-poll-republican-brand-damage-bolsters-clinton

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Florida

[7] http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/why-troops-and-vets-are-voting-for-trump/article/2584171

[8] http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/election/2016/03/14/military-times-election-survey-donald-trump-bernie-sanders/81767560/

Will Montenegro become a NATO member in 2016? (update)

Yet more of what we already know from NATO: “Later this month, NATO Foreign Ministers are due to sign Montenegro’s Accession Protocol. Montenegro will then become an ‘invitee’ and will be able to attend almost all NATO meetings, including the Warsaw Summit, as an observer. Every NATO Ally must then ratify the Protocol in their national parliaments in order for it to become a full member”[1]. At least this confirms my understanding of the matter.

A little more interesting is this: “Montenegro has agreed a new contract with the Washington-based firm Orion Strategies to advocate for the country’s accession bid, according to a US Department of Justice filing. The firm will provide strategic communications, PR and advocacy around issues and news relating to Montenegro in the US and Europe and around the country’s bid for membership of the Western military alliance. Orion Strategies will receive $150,000 for services delivered over a 12-month period ending on February 1, 2017″[2].

A few thoughts about this latter nugget: First, I wouldn’t want to make too much of the 2017 termination date. It’s probably just a result of when the contract was signed. Second, $150K doesn’t seem like much. How much value are they going to get for that kind of money. This would get you two experienced IT guys, if you’re lucky. That’s all you’re going to spend on lobbying the US gov’t? Perhaps Montenegro’s gov’t doesn’t think much work needs to be done. Third, who the hell are these Orion guys? Though the article refers to Orion as “Washington-based,” it looks like it’s actually located in West Virginia[3]. I’ve sent them an email asking for clarification. It’s not a big deal, but why would you wire a WV firm to lobby in DC? Honestly, Orion seems a little bush league. Again, I’m not sure whether Montenegro’s gov’t thinks that this one is in the bag or whether they’ve just made some bad choices, and their accession protocol is going to receive ratification more slowly than it otherwise might have.

As of this writing, no NATO member has, to the best of my knowledge, approved the accession protocol for Montenegro.

[1] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_130581.htm – also reported on in the “New York Times,” http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/05/06/world/europe/ap-eu-montenegro-nato.html

[2] http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/montenegro-hires-us-lobbists-to-push-nato-case-05-05-2016#sthash.Y9gI9Hox.dpuf

[3] http://www.orion-strategies.com/pages/about.html